Ahead of the final regular-season matchup against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Scott Brooks has his new squad operating at a high level.
The Washington Wizards (32-21) have scored 100 or more points in 20 straight games, the longest streak for the franchise since the 1988-89 season. Also, the Wizards should be considered one of the best fourth-quarter performers in the NBA, since the team has the second-most wins (21) in close games decided within the final five minutes.
It would appear that Brooks has rewritten the narrative that dogged him through his final years in Oklahoma City. Criticized for leading an offense viewed as too stagnant and too reliant on superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and judged harshly for his late-game decision making, Brooks, who was fired after the 2014-15 season, has seemingly picked up new tricks in his second tour of coaching.
Or, maybe not.
“I’ve been in the NBA long enough as a player and as coach,” Brooks said Sunday. “Sometimes, the narrative is not reality.”
The truth: Brooks’s teams have perennially performed as highly-functioning offenses and clutch-time winners.
Although in 2011-12 the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals while ranking at the bottom in assists per game — a statistic that exposes lack of ball movement — in that same season, Oklahoma City also finished second in the league in offensive rating, which is points produced per 100 possessions. Starting in 2010, the Thunder had a top-five offensive rating for three straight seasons. Also through four consecutive years, Brooks’s Thunder teams had a winning record in “clutch” games.
After the Wizards’ Sunday afternoon practice, Brooks listened to the line of questions about the former criticism. The topic, he clearly has heard before. While Brooks has often said he accepts performance critiques as part of a coach’s job description, this time he offered a counter argument.
Brooks highlighted the Thunders’ five straight years of finishing within the top five in scoring — a feat achieved even during the injury plagued 2014-15 season in which Durant appeared in only 27 games — and though late-game coaching was a popular rebuke, Oklahoma City still found a way to win at least 45 games in his final six seasons.
“We won a lot of close games. We won 60 games (in 2012-13). You can look at it, you don’t blow out teams every night in this league. There are too many good teams, especially back then in the West,” Brooks said. “I hate to defend myself, but those are the facts. A few people made more of it than it really was. You look at every team, your two best players are going to take the most shots.
“You get criticized for that, which I was willing to take,” Brooks continued, then spoke of his present situation, “but I like what we’re doing now.”
In Washington, Brooks has a team improving with balance. Although all-star point guard John Wall owns the highest share of the assists, the team ranks within the top 10 with 23.6 per game. Also, as players have grown more settled into the offense, all five starters have reached double figures 20 times this season.
Brooks “has a totally new team, new system,” Otto Porter Jr. said. “We’re just believing in ourselves and believing what we can do.”
In his return as a coach, Brooks has often repeated a version of his mantra, that he wanted to be “better and not bitter” from the Oklahoma City experience. However, his coaching style hasn’t dramatically changed since his Thunder days — and that is for the best.
“I don’t beat myself up over the negativity and I don’t wear it on my chest when I get praised. It is what it is,” Brooks said. “I’m going to do my job the best that I can do it and I believe in our players. I’m not asking for perfection, but I am asking for consistency and teamwork, and I feel that’s what I’ve always done as a coach.”